20 Essential Dogme 95 Films You Need To Watch

7. Truly Human (Ake Sandgren, 2001)

Et rigtigt menneske

According to the Vow of Chastity a Dogme film should not use optical work and filters or temporal or geographical alienation. Truly Human breaches the former by applying night vision in the scenes where Lisa (Clara Nepper Winther) is talking to her imaginary elder brother, and also the temporal reality of the film becomes questionable in the last scene. Despite the fact that Truly Human breaks these specific rules of Dogme filmmaking, it is a rather entertaining film that touches on several social issues.

Even though the social criticism is apparent throughout the film, Truly Human’s final message is that there is always hope and everyone has the chance to change their lives. The semi-fantastic story of P (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), a couple’s aborted son who becomes a real boy when his younger sister dies, is full of comical moments.

We can’t help ourselves but laugh as P, who is completely unaware of the social rules and the smallest details that control our everyday lives, learns how to use a toothbrush, how to open a can of tomatoes, or that he should never wash the inside of a car. Unfortunately though the delightful innocence of P is not only the source of humorous moments but also of some painful revelations about discrimination and racism.


6. Kira’s Reason: A Love Story (Ole Christian Madsen, 2001)

Kira’s Reason A Love Story

Kira’s Reason is another example for the Dogme 95 director’s failure in omitting all genre related elements. If anything, Ole Christian Madsne’s film is a beautiful melodrama about a woman’s sufferings that is not understood by anyone close to her. The beautiful Kira (Stine Stengade) leaves the psychiatric institute after two years to go back home to her husband, Mads (Lars Mikkelsen), and their two kids.

Although Mads had an affair while his wife was away, he does everything in his power to give Kira the chance to start her life anew. However, it soon turns out that no one forgets, including Kira and the members of her family, and her mental meltdowns seem to suggest that she is not yet ready to return to her old life – or more like into the society.

Similary to the best Dogme films, Ole Christian Madsen’s piece focuses on the flaws and the hypocrisy of the society to which some people can only answer with madness (The Idiots, Rud from Mifune).

An unusual feature of Kira’s Reason is the frequent use of close-ups that is rarely seen in other Dogme films. Instead of the factual simplicity that the Vow of Chastity promotes, this visual element usually creates high emotional tension that almost forces the audience to put themselves in the place of the character.

In this case it’s always Kira that we see in close-ups, but, and this is where the director’s brilliance best shows, by contrasting these images with her explosive madness in other scenes it becomes almost impossible to empathise with the character.


5. The King Is Alive (Kristian Levring, 2000)

The King Is Alive

In his Dogme project, Levring goes slightly further than the rest of the first four Dogme directors. He does not only strip the film from all the elements that would distract filmmaker and viewer alike to focus on the main subject – that is the art that’s being produced – but he goes one step further by placing his actors in the middle of nowhere. Literally.

The King is Alive follows a group of people stuck in the desert who are trying to keep their spirits up by performing King Lear while one of them is on the way seeking help.

The King is Alive is a study of human behavior, an experiment of acting and also a daring statement film. Alongside the first two Dogme films, it keeps itself to almost all the points of the Vow of Chastity, but this does not prevent it being an entertaining and yet thought-provoking piece.


4. Italian for Beginners (Lone Scherfig, 2000)

Italian for Beginners

Italian for Beginners is a delightful comedy, although genre movies are not acceptable according to the Vow of Chastity. Hence it is immediately clear that this is not a statement film of the Dogme movement. Nor it is a criticism of Danish bourgeoisie, it is simply a heartwarming film about the life and love of little people – with the addition of a good amount of realism, which is often absent from American comedies.

The uncouth restaurant manager, Hal-Finn (Lars Kaalund) who is hilariously rude to his customers, Olympia (Anette Stovelbaek) whose fingers are all thumbs, Karen (Ann Eleonora Jorgensen), the hairdresser, Giulia (Sara Indrio Jensen), the beautiful Italian immigrant and Andreas (Anders W. Berthelsen), the newly appointed pastor form the colourful little community at the centre of this film.

In their own ways each character deals with a trauma or loss, until a few fairy tale-like twists bring them all together for a pleasant happy ending.

Despite the wondrous twists and the surprisingly high number of deaths (three!) nothing seems unnatural about this film, on the contrary, the mixture of black humour and soul-stirring moments make Italian for Beginners a real charming movie.


3. Mifune (Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, 1999)


The four founders of the Dogme movement all have a slightly different approach to the Vow of Chastity. While Vinterberg’s film is very personal, von Trier uses the Dogme to enhance spontaneity and liberate the actors as well as himself from the script.

Kristian Levring goes the farthest in stripping not just filmmaking from all its mannerisms but also his actors from civilization in order to reveal the darkest side of human beings, while Soren Kragh-Jacobsen’s Mifune presents an escape from urban spaces in pursuit of innocence.

Like in the films of the other three directors, the darkness of urban human life is also present in Mifune, but Kragh-Jacobsen’s piece shows a light of hope that the others don’t. A rather Rousseauesque salvation this is, suggesting that human beings can only escape from their own sins and the viciousness of others by returning to nature.

The central characters are Kresten (Anders W. Berthelsen), who, after his father’s death, moves back to the farm where he grew up to take care of his mentally disabled brother, Rud (Jeper Asholt). He hires Liva Psilander (Iben Hjejle), a former prostitute, as a housekeeper, but everyone seems to have their own secrets in this triangle of human relationships. As these get revealed, each character has to fight their own battles for trust, innocence and a way out from a condemned life.

The film also features Paprika Steen in the role of Liva’s friend, Pernille. Interestingly, she is the only actor to appear in each of the first three Dogme films, although always in a support role.


2. The Idiots (Lars von Trier, 1998)

The Idiots (1998)

The Idiots is about a group of people who establish a community where they are trying to discover their inner idiots. Ignoring all social rules, they leave their families to live together in a squat enjoying random instances of “spassing” whereas they behave as mentally disabled.

Although this way of living seemingly provides them an opportunity to rediscover happiness, the viewer cannot ignore the question raised by the occasional moments of conflict: whether the members of this community are running away from their lives instead of reinventing them.

Considering that the Dogme movement was established by a handful of filmmakers as a protest against big budget productions, it is not hard to see the analogue between the representatives of the Dogme 95 programme and Trier’s idiots who refused to conform to the social rules. The Idiots therefore, as a statement film of the Dogme movement, also reveals its shortcomings.

The Dogme manifesto implies a set of restrictions meant to highlight the artistic value of independent productions, but in many cases it proved to be a constraint instead of source of inspiration. Hardly any director produced more than one Dogme film and even the acclaimed Dogme movies breach one or more of the ten rules on multiple occasions, preventing the Dogme 95 movement to compete with the French New Wave.

At the time of its release the film generated ambiguous reactions due to its scenes of strong – and in one case live – sexual scenes, but in terms of popularity and financial success The Celebration outperformed von Trier’s movie on both the domestic and international markets.


1. The Celebration (Thomas Vinterberg, 1998)

The Celebration (1998)

Vinterberg’s The Celebration is one of the two statement Dogme films that were officially released at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998. It was at the same festival that Vinterberg and Lars von Trier unveiled the Dogme 95 statement, their pledge to simple, inexpensive filmmaking against the big budget production system.

The Celebration was a great success at the event and won the Jury Prize, proving that making good films is indeed not a question of money. Although there were hardly any Dogme films that did not breach any of the ten points of the manifesto, The Celebration, the first official film of the movement is a perfectly achieved exercise that exemplifies the concept of the pledge.

The family drama takes place over 24 hours, on the day of a 60th birthday celebration that turns into a tragic feast. Vinterberg shot the film on video and then transferred it to 35 mm. Down to the shaky images and the surrealistic farce of the bourgeois family reunion where all dark secrets get revealed, The Celebration gives the impression of a Bunuel film turned into shocking reality.

The first scandalous moment occurs when Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) reveals in his speech that their dad used to abuse him and his twin sister. This is then surpassed by all the guests singing a racist Danish song to welcome Helene’s (Paprika Steen) coloured boyfriend, and before the next day comes we can witness the hypocrisy of the rich resulting in a hilarious carnage. As the morning comes and the alcohol stock runs out all secrets get revealed, but is this enough for salvation?

Author Bio: Melinda Gemesi has been a freelance film critic since her second year as a Film Studies Student. She holds an MA in Film Studies and Online Journalism and is currently living in London. In her free time she is working on a literary project about which you can find out more on thestoryhunt.tumblr.com.